Sky News Live, Sky News, Tom Connell
Topics: ADF support to Victoria, Cyber funding announcement, Taliban
***E&OE Check against delivery***
TOM CONNELL: Live is Defence Minister Linda Reynolds. Thanks very much for your time today, Minister. Just starting on the situation in Victoria because we're hearing there is likely to be an announcement this afternoon of some form of lockdown in those trouble spots. Presumably that would need a lot of boots on the ground. Can you confirm any requests from Victoria for a military presence to help that happen?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well, good morning, Tom. What I can confirm is that we are in the process of putting 200 Australian Defence Force personnel on the ground in Victoria, another 80 arrived last night, and they are doing the testing blitz right across the nation - right across the State, I'm sorry, in support of the Victorian Government.
TOM CONNELL: Okay, so any likelihood of further troops to help that situation if there's a lockdown?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: We haven't had any additional requests yet, Tom, but the Defence Force is certainly ready to provide additional assistance as and when required.
TOM CONNELL: Okay, you've made an announcement today around cyber capability at $1.5 billion. This is to do what exactly? Try to ward off any threats because we've had the PM talk about a lot of increased attempted attacks and attacks on Australian business and Commonwealth entities as well?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well, Tom, malicious cyber activity against Australia and Australian interests has been on the increase in terms of its frequency and also the technical capabilities associated with it, and it is certainly having a greater impact on Australians, whether it be individuals, organisations or Government. So what we have announced today is the largest single investment in Australian cyber security, it's $1.35 billion and that is to increase the capabilities of the Australian Signals Directorate and also the Australian Cyber Security Centre, and that will be to do a range of things. Firstly to increase their technical capabilities, to increase the amount of staff at the Australian Signals Directorate and, in fact, $470 million of that is going to recruit another 500 cyber security experts.
So I'd say to anybody out there who is looking for a career on the front line of Australia's defence cyber, please go to asd.gov.au because we have new opportunities available.
TOM CONNELL: It's certainly good to hear of new jobs popping up in this climate. When you talk about those figures, they sound pretty big from an Australian standpoint of view, but does it really pale in comparison, compared to the cyber armies of China and Russia, for example. How does that actually compare against them?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well, not at all. This is part of a $15 billion announcement that the Prime Minister and I will make later on this week for further cyber defence and also information warfare capabilities for the Australian Defence Force. So we are certainly doing our bit to protect Australians.
But don't forget, Tom, we don't do this alone. We are working with our Five Eyes partners in particular, with GCHQ in the UK, with the NSA and the US Cyber Command. So this is truly a global effort, but we are making sure that we are investing everything we need to, to keep Australians safe online.
TOM CONNELL: An audit of Commonwealth entities, though, found only a quarter of them had implemented basic cyber security defences protections. That was seven years after they became mandatory. What's happening to address that issue?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well, Tom, work continues at a Federal Government level across all agencies to ensure that all Federal Government agencies have the required cyber security standards and that is work in progress.
Can I make this point, that cyber security is not just an issue for the Federal Government. All levels of government, all organisations, and all Australians who have an online presence, whether through their smart devices, their computers, or any other device, must ensure that they take all requisite opportunities. You can do that by going to cyber.gov.au and you will find all the information that all of us need to make sure that we are cyber secure because, as I've said, we are facing increasing threats across the board.
TOM CONNELL: I want to ask you finally about this story coming out of the US, that the US Government briefed the UK that Russia was paying to have the Taliban kill off cash bounties, to kill coalition troops and US troops in Afghanistan. Was the Australian Government briefed on this?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: No, it was not. This is an issue for the United States.
TOM CONNELL: Right, have you asked - has the Australian Government approached the US as to why we weren't briefed on this matter?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Look, Tom, I've given you all the answers that I'm in a position to do so. = But we were not aware of this and it is firmly an issue for the United States.
TOM CONNELL: But is it an issue for Australia to make sure, for example, existing Australian personnel training soldiers in Afghanistan are not at risk right now?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Well, Tom, our top priority for myself and the Chief of Defence Force is always the safety and security of our personnel, whether they're on exercise here in Australia or they're on deployments overseas. So we do everything we can to ensure the safety of our personnel.
TOM CONNELL: So would that mean asking the US Government now if those personnel are at risk given the report around bounties?
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Good try, Tom, but as I've said, this is an issue for the United States and it is not an issue that impacts Australia.
TOM CONNELL: Okay, but it was about coalition troops as well, so are you saying you're comfortable there's no increased risk to Australian troops? Have you been told that?
LINDA REYNOLDS: Tom, as I've said, we have a laser-like focus, both myself as the Minister and also the Chief of Defence Force, on the safety of our men and women overseas, and force protection is our number one priority and we take that very seriously. The issue that you raise is an issue for the United States.
TOM CONNELL: Defence Minister, Linda Reynolds, thanks for your time today.
MINISTER REYNOLDS: Thanks very much.